Spacey makes light of 'mugging' and pledges future to the Old Vic

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The Independent Online

Kevin Spacey was forced to fend off questions about his private life yesterday as he announced the new line-up for his first season as artistic director of the Old Vic theatre.

As part of a glamorous new future for the London venue, Sir Ian McKellen is to star as a panto dame at Christmas, while Spacey and Neil Pearson will perform in other shows.

But the news conference to announce the programme was overshadowed by persistent questions about why the Hollywood actor had wrongly reported being mugged in a Kennington park on Saturday. Gazing at a sea of journalists swelled beyond the ranks of the normal arts correspondents yesterday, Spacey said that he was pleased editors had finally decided theatre was worth writing about.

Aware of there being greater curiosity among those present over how he was mugged - or conned - of his mobile telephone while walking his dog in Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park at 4.30am on Saturday, Spacey made light of the incident. He said: "I would like to put to rest a rumour that has spread about town in the last few days, that David Beckham offered to pay £100,000 to the Old Vic if I took him off the front pages for a few days."

Smiling at all other questions about dog walking, Spacey announced that, in the tradition of actor-managers epitomised by Laurence Olivier in the 1960s, he would star in two plays at the theatre and direct another starring Pearson and Hugh Bonneville. At Christmas, Sir Ian will make his first appearance at the Old Vic for 40 years.

Spacey, the star of American Beauty and The Usual Suspects, made clear his commitment to living in London and running the new Old Vic Theatre Company in the 186-year-old venue. "I'm not going to be giving up my film career entirely, but my primary focus is going to be this theatre," he said. "It won't be easy. But it will be worth the risk."

Until nine years ago, his experience had been almost exclusively in the theatre, "the most satisfying place to be as an actor", he said.

He said the first production this September would be a Dutch hit unknown in UK, Cloaca, by Maria Goos, which will star Stephen Tompkinson as well as Pearson and Bonneville, with Spacey directing. The second will be Aladdin with McKellen as Widow Twankey, followed by the European premiere of National Anthems, by the American writer Dennis McIntyre, in which Spacey will star. He first performed it 15 years ago and "felt so strongly" that he acquired the rights and has held them ever since.

The final production of the first season will be The Philadelphia Story by Philip Barry, a stage play better known in its film version, which starred Cary Grant, James Stewart and Katharine Hepburn. Spacey will star as CK Dexter Haven.

The Old Vic is being run as a commercial venture, but there will be 100 seats at £12 for under-25s at every performance to attract new audiences.